One of the job perks of being a college counselor is that colleges fly us down for an in-person campus visit. They want us to see the new construction, meet the students and professors, and experience the surrounding area. They also give us pennants (which, if you have seen my office, you know I love to put up).
Thanks to this particular perk, I just returned from a visit to the University of Tampa. While enjoying the perfect Florida sun in the midst of a dreary New England winter, I was reminded of the importance of making the most of your college visits. Especially when you’re visiting a college that’s far away, you don’t want to squander what might be your only opportunity to see a campus in person before making a decision to attend.
The first thing you want to do is make it official. Register ahead of time with the admissions office and go on the official tour and information session.These not only give you a good overview of the college’s offerings and values, but attending also shows that you’re demonstrating interest. Many colleges look at demonstrated interest when evaluating an application, so if you are interested enough to actually set foot on campus — for ANY reason — make sure that the Admissions Office knows you’re there. Maybe you’re visiting a cousin, attending a talk, or walking your dog. Even if your visit is a little more informal, swing by the Admissions Office and fill out an info card so that they have a record of your visit.
You also want to have a plan. I think too many students and families go into a campus visit wanting to see how the campus feels. They assume that just setting foot on the grounds will tell them all they need to know about whether that college is the place they want to spend four years and thousands of dollars. Instead, I counsel my students to think very carefully about what they want to see and learn about when they visit a campus. We work closely to develop individualized questions that will help a student get to the heart of what they want to know. Don’t waste your time asking about information that you can find easily online. For example, if you want to know what the faculty-student ratio is, ask yourself why that matters to you. If you think that information will allow you to infer what the relationship is like between students and professors, then just ask how students and professors interact.
Remember what’s important. Colleges are really good at putting their best foot forward on a tour. They can dazzle you with a charismatic tour guide or new swimming pool. Are you a swimmer? If not, don’t get distracted! Stay focused on what matters to you. If you encounter something you weren’t planning on (like, maybe students can have dogs in the dorms!), ask yourself if that’s something that you want to be a factor in your decision-making process or not.
Since a tour and information session will only give you a small glimpse of a school, dig deeper. Walk around the parts of the campus they didn’t show you on the tour to see how those compare to what else you’ve seen so far. Talk to random students or staff members to ask them some of the same questions you asked the admissions officers and tour guides. See if you notice any differences. Peruse the student newspaper. Leave no stone unturned! If this is going to be your only chance to kick the tires before you apply, then make the most of it.
There’s something about each school that makes it unique and the perfect place for somebody. Your mission is to figure out if that somebody is you! Make sure that you have fun. Recognize the adventure that you’re on. And be ready for your college counselor to grill you about all of your thoughts when you return.
Learn more about how to determine if a college is the best fit for you.